Q. What copy will perform best on my website?
A. I don’t know.
Q. What page should I direct search traffic to in order to get the highest conversion rate?
A. No clue.
Q. What time of day will get the best open rate on my email marketing campaign?
A big part of any consulting-style job, be it advertising, PR, business process or any other role in which the central function is to incite action across a broad group of people, is answering questions. To be successful, you need to be part futurist, part expert and part hand holder and teller that everything’s going to be okay-er. But the reality of this type of work – especially that which deals with newer or unproven media or channels – is that sometimes the answer to the question the client is asking is “I have no idea.”
But that’s not much comfort to clients.
So, we answer the question based on our experiences, our intuition, our understanding of media and consumers, and we guess… just a little bit. But more and more, the guesswork is coming out of the profession. We have access to analytics, measurement systems and tracking that communicators have never before had access to, and for the most part, they’re inexpensive and easy to integrate. We can tell where our best-converting sales leads are coming from, what types of posts have the best engagement, and when the best time to send out our email communications is – all from easily collected real-time data.
So why are we still guessing?
Part of the reason is that advertising people have always been regarded in part as soothsayers. It was this confidence in our knowledge of the medium, the message and the huddled masses yearning to be sold to that garnered multi-million dollar ad budgets. Conversely, it’s the expertise and ego that got CMOs through the ranks to where they are today. So where is the incentive for anyone in this equation to ever utter the phrase “I don’t know?”
As a society, we’ve always had an odd fascination with mediums and psychics who pretend to be able to see the future, telling us, to our amazement, what would happen to us, would we find love, how we would die. Of course, these were all parlour tricks based on intuition and a controlled situation. And that’s exactly what we’re doing when we predict what colour “buy” button will perform best, or where to put the call to action on the landing page. Our experience, knowledge and understanding of the media combines with our intuition to make an educated guess, but that’s usually all it is.
If, on the other hand, both the client and the agency embraces the fact that they don’t know the answer – that’s when real answers can be found. We can A/B test copy to see which performs best. We can analyze data to deduce why people are coming to our site. We can built multiple landing pages for multiple keywords and choose the one to go with based only on which one makes the client more money.
Of course, it’s impossible to test everything, which is why we rely on experts in the first place. If you’re Google, you’ll test 42 shades of blue to determine what colour your background should be, but that’s impractical at best, and an impediment to creative thinking at worst. Instead, look to solve problems by focusing on the most probable solutions (based on intuition), and determining which one works the best (based on numbers). It’s not as sexy as a crystal ball, but it’s certainly better for business.